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heart disease
american heart association
bodily tissues
average lifespan
average life expectancy
heart muscle
cell walls
heart attacks
heart attack
How Heart Disease Is Affected By Your Diet
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How Heart Disease is Affected By Your Diet

The connection between diet and heart disease

In today's article, we'll look at the ways in which your diet can negatively or positively affect your chances of developing heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans today, resulting in over 450,000 fatalities each year, according to the American Heart Association. Some authors have written this off as merely a "first world problem," implying that since Americans aren't dying from malnutrition and malaria on a regular basis, we shouldn't really worry. It's true that we aren't dying from traditional maladies, but that doesn't mean that we can't do something about the problems we do have.

As I wrote in my last article, Americans' average lifespan has been going up steadily, especially since the 1920s. The average life expectancy today is 75 years, 90+ years for someone born in the 1980s. The good news is that you're probably going to live a long time. The question today is not "how long can I expect to live." It's now "how long can I expect to live well." For most people, this comes down to financial security, and health maintenance. I'm no financial planner, but I do know a thing or two about health issues.

What is a heart attack?

Heart attacks and strokes are usually caused by the buildup of material along the cell walls of arteries, which make them swell over time. This swelling can lead to a partial or complete blockage of blood flow. This causes two problems. First, blockage prevents nutrients and oxygen to reach vital bodily tissues "down stream." This can lead to cell death, which can potentially kill you. The most common situation is one in which arteries supplying the heart itself with nutrients is blocked off.

Second, that blood has to go somewhere. If it can't flow away from the heart to other parts of the body, it can back up, causing high pressure which can lead to the heart muscle giving up. The result is a stopped heart. Sometimes hemorrhaging can occur if vascular tissue has been already weakened due to some other cause.

The term "stroke" refers to a similar situation where a blood clot forms somewhere in the body and then becomes lodged in an artery supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain. If this happens, brain damage or death can result.

Diet & heart disease

Heart disease, like diabetes, is a serious medical condition that has some significant lifestyle components. People who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet are less likely to develop heart conditions than those who don't. Exercise is important because it strengthens your muscles, including your heart and lungs. The stronger your heart is, the more resilient it will be against physical stress caused by periodic heavy activity, such as helping your best friend move. A strong heart also helps lower the chance that your heart will give out due to a minor, temporary blockage.

Diet is also very important. Most people reading this article have probably heard of "HDL" and "LDL" cholesterol. One is supposedly good, and the other isn't. How and why? Cholesterols are a family of complex fats that help make up the cell walls of every cell in your body. They're also involved in the production of various acids and hormones in your body. Without them, life as we know it wouldn't exist. That said, what are HDLs and LDLs, and how do they affect heart health?

"HDL" stands for "high-density lipid," and "LDL" is "low-density lipid." Most cholesterols in your body are HDLs. They bind to various other molecular compounds, and go about their business without causing your body any trouble. LDLs, on the other hand, have a tendency to be much more "sticky," and can build up in vascular tissue. If enough of them build up in your arteries, they can cut off blood flow.

Managing cholesterol

A good heart disease conscious diet is all about putting in more of the "good stuff" and taking out as much of the "bad stuff" as possible. When it comes to heart health, experts recommend a well-balanced diet that is high in fruits and grains, and low in fats and sugars. Here's a short list of what the American Heart Association recommends:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week

See their website for more detailed information on heart disease diet issues, as well as how to assess your risk factors and more.

Antioxidant rich foods and heart disease

Emerging science also suggests that various antioxidant rich foods can have a positive affect on heart health by reducing stress factors that can otherwise cause heart muscle to not function as well as it could. For example, a particular type of antioxidant found in the mangosteen fruit appears to aid in the recovery of heart tissue after injury. If this is the case, antioxidant rich foods may have benefits when it comes to everyday wear and tear on your heart.

As always, consult your doctor or other competent medical expert before starting any kind of excersise or diet regimen. The American Heart Association website provides a lot of good heart disease diet information, and you can find a lot of useful info about antioxidant rich foods on Pubmed and the Journal of Medicinal Foods.


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